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Retailers optimistic

Longtime merchants and newcomers expect to benefit from a turnaround in the economy.

June 11, 2010|By Ashley Breeding

Despite the economic downturn that has resulted in a reported 32% decrease in sales in Laguna Beach, some vendors say they've already seen a spike in activity since Memorial Day weekend, and they are optimistic that the tourist season will again bring a bounty of business to the town.

Whitney Rose, manager of Hobie Surf Shop downtown at the corner of Beach Street and Forest Avenue, said that judging by the business the store saw during spring break, she anticipates a busy summer.

"It's been huge," she said. "I expect a big jump from the [lack of activity] of the past two summers."

Owner of Fawn Memories, George Nelson, whose souvenir shop has been located in the heart of the downtown area since 1974, said he is also optimistic based on what he's seen in the past few weeks.

"I'm seeing more upswing and traffic for sure," he said. "The tourists and customers we've seen so far are early indicators that sales will be up from last year."

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Some proprietors are venturing to open to new stores and restaurants, with the faith that things are turning around.

Bob Kronquist — known locally as "Kayak Surf Bob" — opened 484 North Gallery in February. He struggled to rent out the space formerly occupied by Schaar Galleries, which his family has owned since 1973.

"It's actually come together so nicely because people are without jobs and have had time to help me spruce it up," he said. "It's a great spot where artists can come together and encourage each other."

The seven-room, 1,150-square-foot house at 474 N. Coast Hwy., which has been converted into a gallery, carries a variety of paintings from local collectors, artists and Sawdust exhibitors, and includes a collection of vintage prints from the '50s and '60s.

Kronquist, whose father helped found the Sawdust Festival in 1966 when it took place on North Coast Highway, not far from where his gallery is now, said he remains especially loyal to Sawdust exhibitors.

"I give out the space in the gallery and let the artists take ownership of it," he said. "I'm trying to share the property with different people who could really use it right now.

"So far our sales have been amazing and I'm optimistic that we'll continue to do well in the upcoming season."

The gallery, open daily from noon to 6 p.m., hopes to become an official member of First Thursdays Art Walk.

In the meantime, it hosts talented local musicians to help draw Artwalkers in an extra block on Pacific Coast Highway.

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